Valerie Thomas Hartshorne: 1931-2023
My mother, Valerie Thomas Hartshorne, died yesterday, January 30, 2023. It’s been a long slide toward the end as we’ve followed my mother’s journey throughout her long life with Parkinson’s and circulation issues that hampered her mobility. Surrounded by family in her home bedroom, Valerie Hartshorne passed away yesterday, age 91, and was fully ready to leave this Earth.
My memories of my mother stretch out over so many decades, I’ve always been in touch with and close to her. She had such a large role in my life, even as we lived for most of our lives in separate states. One of my favorite things was the daily phone call I used to make in 2017 for almost a whole year before my father died in 2018. I was the pill-reminder guy. So every day at 12:30 I’d ring them up and get a little check-in, it was a cherished time in my life, being in touch daily with both of them.
All throughout my life my relationship with my parents was close, closer than most people I know because they were truly interested in me, my life, and what I had to say. Some people’s parents are not like that, but I had the best because Nat and Val always heard me and didn’t judge me. I feel blessed to have had a life without stress with regard to my parents, they were good to me and I loved the time I spent with them.
Valerie Hartshorne’s vibe was a peaceful and reassuring one, she fit the role of mother and of wife so completely. Val had a way of making people feel comfortable, she had a true warmth and compassion that led her to help people in need. She worked as a volunteer at Planned Parenthood for decades, and for SAVE the animal rescue down the road. My daughter Kate Hartshorne credits Vally for the career she followed, becoming a nurse who helps deliver babies. She inspired dozens of people throughout her long life.
Countless numbers of people who joined her in decades of AA meetings saw her as a role model and example. She walked the walk, stopping drinking in the 1980s and never looking back, sober and clear the rest of her whole life. But she never admonished anyone else over their drinking, she simply provided an example for people. She was happy to party with all of us, with her sober drinks of choice in hand.
Vally was surrounded by her family until she died, she never knew the inside of an assisted living facility. She had my sister Caroline living in the house with her children, and I know she loved hearing the noises of the kids and the coming and going through the busy old house, which was once the Blawenburg Tavern. The house that mom and dad bought in 1960 has been our family homestead for the past 63 years.
Vally made every one of her ten grandchildren feel special. Each had their own tradition to associate with Vally. She was a constant, steady, and reliable presence in each of these lucky kids’ lives. And each of them loved her for it, to a person.
Vally had her devoted full-time aide, Lisa, and her prickly cat with no name who only she and Lisa really liked, the cat loved them both and no one else.
I’ve always said that the two people who I admire the most in this world were the ones who raised me, Nat and Val. I always felt to proud that these empathic, sensitive, and understanding people were at the other end of the phone, or waiting for me in their home when I visited. I was proud to introduce them to my friends because I knew that they would quickly make whoever it was warm to them and soon they too would see what I saw.
Mom was the kind of person who made big changes when she needed to, like when she woke up one day after getting drunk and said, enough! And spent the next decades sober. One time my father went out and bought a very expensive and very large car, a 1973 Chevrolet Caprice Estate, one of the longest station wagons ever built.
And in about one month, Val convinced Dad to return the car to the dealer and instead, we bought a Volkswagen Beetle and a small VW Station Wagon, which she much preferred. The bug would go on to be my very first car.
One of the last best conversations I had with Vally was once when she was quite lucid. This was just a few months ago when my sister Jenny brought Vally to New York City to see the Music Man on Broadway.
As this show has always been one of our family’s touchstones, we talked about the original musical and the movie, and it was just the nicest thing that she was able to hear Hugh Jackman in person sing those famous songs.